“The Myth of Leading People Into The Presence” Revisited
A little over a year ago, we posted a blog from a member of our global songwriting community entitled “The Myth of Leading People into the Presence,” which you can read here. In summary, this blog dealt with two issues: 1) the general concept of God’s presence and 2) our role in helping people encounter God through musical expression.
The previous blog raised some interesting questions and passionate discussion in our community. So I’ve decided to dig a little deeper into the issue and see if we can bring a little more context to this conversation.
Question #1: When we say “the presence of God” what do we mean?
Most scholars would agree that when the Bible speaks of the “presence of God” it’s referring to close personal interaction. The phrase “presence of God” is translated from words in the original biblical languages meaning “face.” The idea is God’s close personal interaction with his creation. That palpable overwhelming sense of comfort, reverential fear, and awe of God can be described as “the presence of God.” Here are a few scriptural references to help shape our perspective on God’s presence:
- God has chosen to dwell with his people and make himself known in special ways.
“I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God.” (Exodus 29:45, ESV)
“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16, ESV)
First and foremost, we experience God’s presence by his sovereign choice. Because he is omnipresent, he is fully capable of making himself known at any place and any time. But we can seek his face or close personal presence only in the ways that he’s chosen to reveal himself (i.e. scripture, prayer, baptism, communion, the fellowship of believers, etc).
Simply put, experiencing “the presence of God” is more about God’s activity toward us than it is our activity toward him.
Question #2: How can I enter into the presence of God?
- Our relationship with Jesus affects how we interact with the presence of God.
“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:19–22, ESV)
The Bible describes Jesus as the atoning sacrifice and high priest who causes us to enter into God’s presence.
The presence of God is both a wonderful (Psalm 16:11) and terrible (Psalm 6:1–2) place; wonderful for the righteous ones and terrible for the unredeemed. Only by faith in Christ’s finished work are we able to enter into the most holy and sacred place of God’s presence with boldness and full assurance that we will be accepted.
Simply put, there is no other way to safely enter into the presence of God except by the blood of Jesus.
Question #3: What about the presence of God in private and corporate worship?
- God defines the ways in which he will make his presence known in worship.
“And the Lord said to Moses, ‘This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.’ Moses said, ‘Please show me your glory.’ And he said, ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name “The Lord.” And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,’ he said, ‘you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.’” (Exodus 33:17–20)
“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:20, ESV)
God is faithful to indwell, empower, and reveal himself to us in special ways as we engage him as he has defined.
- Experiencing the presence of God is powerful and transformational.
“ . . . so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of God.” (2 Chronicles 5:14, ESV)
“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” (Acts 2:1–4, NIV)
“That times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.” (Acts 3:20–21, ESV)
Every person is born in worship crisis; unfamiliar and unwelcome in the presence of God. We would wander aimlessly in darkness if not for the light of the gospel shining upon us and God illuminating the path of true worship by his spirit. The Bible teaches us that worship is not primarily an issue of skill, giftedness, or ritual although these means are given by God to help us worship him. Worship and experiencing God’s presence is primarily an issue of God’s activity in our lives and our heart response to his work. As his image bearers and chosen people we have the unique stewardship of announcing that God’s kingdom has come, his presence is near, and all are welcomed through faith in Christ.